Isa Best Omoegbeji, Abah Adah and Rose Samuel reports that for residents of the Federal Capital Territory and its environs, it is struggle for survival as they battle with a tripartite societal menace of hunger, increased criminality and deadly stench from uncleared dump sites.
Nigeria’s capital city, Abuja and its environs have come under heavy threats from three life threatening elements namely hunger, increased criminality and deadly stench from uncleared dump sites, no, thanks to the dwindling fortunes of the economy and failure of the relevant authorities to clear heaps of refuse on the sideways of major streets.
Residents of Abuja and environs are worried that the looming hunger situation may soon go beyond what they could control. Some are already helping themselves by committing crime in order to survive, making it a more daunting task for an administration that is ready to fight corruption.
Many consumers told our reporters during the week that the prices of food items and transportation, had affected their purchasing power.
They, however, urged the Federal government and National Assembly to speed up action on a “bill for an Act to make provision for freedom from hunger and right to adequate food of acceptable quality pending before the lawmakers” so as to lessen the devastating effect the current economic reality in the country had been having on them and also to put other measures to address the hike in transportation.
“We heard that a bill seeking freedom from hunger is being considered in the Senate and the lawmakers should do everything that will make the bill a success,” a meat seller said.
A market survey done by our reporters revealed that patronage of many items had reduced in most markets. The popular commuter buses plying Abuja roads have almost doubled the number they use to carry before now, most times carrying above capacity.
Both Consumers and Traders at the Orange Market in Maraba, Suleja market and the Masaka Market in Abuja neighborhood had all complained about sharp drop in patronage and a generalized hunger phenomenon.
Mrs Comfort Ekpe, a trader in vegetables in Orange Market complained, saying “Before now, no matter how much people complained, there was simply no way Abuja residents would not have social functions, especially wedding or birthday ceremonies.
“At least, we were sure that those getting married or celebrating would come to the market to buy condiments for salad or fried rice, gift items or souvenirs to share to their guests. But now, the situation seems to have changed. Most of these goods we purchase to come and resell ends up going bad and we cannot recoup even our initial capital”, she added.
There have been violent criminal attacks on residents living around Abuja environs especially, Mararaba, Apo and Suleja, ranging from murder, Assault, Theft, Burglary, Carjacking, Kidnapping, Extortion, Fraud, Piracy, Riots/Civil Unrest, Bribery and a host of others. Some of LEADERSHIP Weekend’s checks reveal that majority of this crimes have either an established direct or indirect link to hunger.
In one of our findings, it was gathered from Mama Funke, a fast food vendor around Masaka neighborhood who claimed things are that bad, that she now collects money before dishing out food to sell to her customers, since she is tired of people eating her food and then beginning to beg for credit.
She added that in one of such incidence, the man that ate her food simply dammed the consequences and went ahead to eat the plate of food before going on his knees. He began to plead for leniency when other users of the restaurant restrained him and asked why he won’t use his abilities to look for work to do.
Around the same axis, it was learnt from Mrs Pius Okeke about an incidence in Ako Village Mararaba last week when a young man stormed into a provision shop and stole N200 Naira. The owner of the shop raised alarm and immediately, the thief was caught and terribly beaten to pop. He just kept mumbling and repeating the phrase “na hungry oh…na hungry oh”. At the end, the thief blamed the entire act on hunger.
Others have simply gone beyond the level of crime for simple survival, to a high wired criminality to settle a craving to leave luxurious life styles beyond their means. Some will even commit murder because of money.
On addressing the issue of criminality, the FCT Commissioner of Police, Alkali Usman, said the police force would continue to step up their activities against criminals in and around the city. Usman also said the command had developed an operation order to effectively cover the security arrangement in and around the FCT.
He said the arrangement also covers suburbs, noting that Area Commanders and Divisional Police Officers had been properly briefed on their respective roles, adding that his men had arrested 23 suspects over alleged armed robbery and car snatching offences around the FCT and its environs. Items recovered from the suspects include three pistols, 31 live ammunitions, seven cars, one truck and one master key, amongst other items like clothes and shoes.
Further inquiries about the threatening living conditions in Abuja suburbs, especially around Mararaba-Karu axis revealed that another painful scorch of overflowing refuse dumps and blocked drainages as well as spilling sewage and broken water pipes have become common features in many streets and even some of the highways in recent months, thereby posing avoidable environmental hazards to residents of the city and the environs. The stench coming out of these dumps leaves commuters and passengers alike to gasp for breath when passing around City Rock or Mopol Junction.
When you see commuters and pedestrians flinching and blocking their nostrils with their palms or handkerchief along the abuja-Keffi express between Masaka and Nyanya in Nasarawa State, it is the unbearable pungent stench from putrefying waste dumps that adorn the roadside they are reacting to.
The one that is quite pathetic and should be of utmost concern to any conscientious person or people is the abandoned refuse hill on the premises of the unfenced Nyanya Gbagyi Primary School by the bridge at the junction in New Nyanya along the express way. LEADERSHIP Weekend went round to ask questions on the ugly development.
What is more worrisome about that of Nyanya Gbagi Primary School is the fact that miscreants have hijacked the situation and turned the area into their toilets, defecating indiscriminately at the base of the refuse heap. Unfortunately, this spot, apart from the classrooms, is where the pupils play and even eat food while ignoring the repulsive odour.
“I am tired and I don’t want to talk again. I have written to the concerned local authorities about this situation here and followed up severally, yet you can see that nothing has been done about it,” was the angry remark of the Headmaster of the school, Mr Ibrahim Adamu Yusuf, when approached by our reporter on the matter.
According to him, he has been going about trying to draw the attention of the authorities to the development with a view to finding lasting solution to it for about two years now, but they all turned their deaf ear to his appeal.
He said the next and last step he was about to take is to engage the Civil Defence so that at least two operatives will be sent to keep watch over the place from morning till 10 pm at my expense. I have done it before; I will do it again. He said that most of the people dump the waste under the cover of darkness at night.
He said what he is not sure about is whether all the letters he has been writing to complain got to the attention of the Governor, adding that he believes that the governor who does not take development issues likely will act as soon as he gets reports on it.
One of those who do business around the dump, Peter Gabriel, said
they have had to quarrel with some people there in the process of trying to dump their waste. “We are not happy about this at all, but we don’t know what to do, so we have learnt to tolerate the odour and bad sight,” he said.
A resident, Mr. Paul Chimaroke said, “Sometimes it takes authorities about a month to clear the dump. Even when they are doing the clearing, one is not sure whether the vehicle will leave the dump site as they usually get spoiled and remain there for days. We have a serious problem of rodents and mosquitoes around here. Please government should come to our aid”.
When our reporter visited the Karu Council Area headquarters, the spokesperson was not in office, but a woman in the health department who spoke on condition of anonymity said those in charge of refuse evacuation have been on strike over their unpaid salaries, and that is the only thing she thought was responsible for the unevacuated refuse dumps around.
According to him, there should be controlled waste disposal whereby only designated places are used for waste dumping.
The disposal of waste in unsanitary or unhygienic conditions, can lead to Food waste which are unsightly, unsanitary and smelly can lead to diseases and epidemics, if not disposed off properly.
Speaking to our reporter, a food seller in Masaka, Chioma Emeka, lamented that the dumping of refuse on the road side and other parts of the city and her business has been affected negatively as customers have not been coming to her shop, adding that ‘’ I pay N 30,000 for truck to come and pack it and even after that people will still dump refuse and now I don’t have that amount of money to pay. ‘’
According to her, the Nasarawa Urban Development Board (NUDB) workers only came to drop the container for refuse dumping but didn’t come around to evacuate it. She however condemned the act of some of the residents whom she said also contribute by not dumping their refuse inside the container but on the ground. She called on the Nasarawa state Government under Governor Almakura to intervene as a matter of urgency and ensure that the agencies of government responsible evacuate the rubbish and designate appropriate areas for waste disposal instead of open public places.
NUDB, it was gathered, is the body directly in charge of waste disposal in the state.
A shop owner in the area, Hope Sunday, said those living around the area dispose refuse in the night on the road, adding that apart from the threat it poses to people’s health, it also block drainages which may cause flooding. He urged the government to do something about it before it gets out of hand.
One of the residents of Karu, Oladimeji Olu recalled that some months back authorities of the Federal Capital Development Authority and Abuja Municipal Area Council as well as Abuja Environmental Protection Board ensured the evacuation of refuse from the streets, but noted that the situation has become even worse with the rainy season. He called on concerned authorities to intervene and safe the souls of those downtrodden living around Abuja city center.
Residents of most of the affected areas stated that they had made several appeals to the appropriate authorities on the development to no avail. Mohammed Jibrin a fast food seller (Mai Shai) had complained that “if authorities concerned are not removing the refuse because of the stench, they should at least remove them because they are blocking the roads”.
Many drainages and sewage lines in Kubwa and the suburbs have also been blocked with faeces and other solid wastes that spill into some of the roads.
The situation in the roads is near total Confusion as motorists and commercial motorcycle operators (Okada riders) as well as wheelbarrow pushers struggle for right of way on the remaining portion of the roads, causing a huge gridlock of traffic and waste of many hours on the roads.
This could be another possible threat to people’s health. LEADERSHIP Weekend observed operations of petty traders hawking their wares as well as roadside restaurants and fast food joints along the filthy streets and highways despite the stench from the nearby dumps.
What are the consequences of this? Jude Nwafor is a health expert based in Abuja. Describing the situation as pathetic, he said it is capable of causing epidemics. He lamented that for such refuse to be dumped and abandoned in a school where children are playing and eating is the highest level of unhygienic practice
“Bad waste management practices can result in land and air pollution and can cause respiratory problems and other adverse health effects as contaminants are absorbed from the lungs into other parts of the body. It is a recipe for great health and environmental problems such as epidemics,” he said.
He said the consequences of having such refuse heaps in public place are numerous, adding that they tend to become breeding grounds for disease carriers such as mosquitoes and other harmful organisms. He said considering the many health risks associated with improper waste disposal, everything possible should done to ensure that dumping sites are considerably far from public, especially crowded places, adding that where such dumping in place becomes inevitable, then efforts should be made at very short intervals to evacuate it have to be in public places